Diary of a Widower

Daily entries by a husband, who stayed behind with his two sons

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

Avalanche of young mothers

THURSDAY, September 30 – Every morning I treat myself to the sight of all the attractive mothers in our neighborhood, as they usher their offspring out of the house, zip up coats, kiss them, and reprimand them when they race down the street, battling wind and rain. Suddenly I feel a wave of hate for all those mothers who are allowed to take their children to school today. Why them?

She was way more courageous

WEDNESDAY, September 29 – I seem to be an exceptional human being.  A fantastic man, superb father. Would a woman be showered with the declarations of support and sympathy that are still coming my way? Or would her decision have been seen as quite normal – the fact that her career was being put on the back burner, shelved or interrupted? Jenn would have known the answer and so do I.

The look of recognition. Just fine

TUESDAY, September 28 – Despite having resigned, I couldn’t miss the visit of the Crown Prince and his wife. Willem Alexander and Maxima toured the news floor and afterwards joined a smaller group for a discussion focusing on journalism in general. As the prince shook my hand, I mentioned my name and there was the look of recognition. Yes, of course, we had spoken to each other last November. No more than that. Just the recognition. It felt good. Good enough.

Is putting your kids first ‘brave’?

MONDAY, September 27 – I’d prepared a pretty good text, which I was planning to read at quarter past one, during the daily meeting. As long as you have the words in front of you, on paper, there’s no problem. No matter how difficult the text is. I’d made out all right speaking next to Jenn’s coffin, surrounded by hundreds of sobbing friends, and I didn’t do too badly in court either when I faced the man who had killed her and who was himself sitting there sobbing uncontrollably.

But this afternoon, it doesn’t work. I just can’t do it. Goddamn it! I start off with a joke while my colleagues look back at me with rapt attention; but then I’m the one who can’t keep back the tears. My vocal chords were paralyzed. After several attempts, I had to give up. H took the text from my trembling hands and read it for me:

‘It is with a heavy heart that I tender my resignation as deputy editor-in-chief. I can no longer totally devote myself to fulfilling my duties with total dedication. NOS News deserves an executive management team that functions at a full one hundred percent of their capacities.  Unfortunately, my personal circumstances make this impossible.

I made this decision shortly after Hans, Giselle, Marcel and I embarked with confidence on the new season. Gradually I have taken up my duties again. I had and still have the energy, interest, peace of mind, concentration, and qualities necessary for the job. I’m doing much better, but that is not my only consideration.

It’s important for me to be there for all of you, my colleagues both during office hours and outside office hours. That means following all the broadcasts and all the responses and reactions to those broadcasts. This means not only during regular hours, but also in the evenings and on weekends and doing so alongside the busy program here in Hilversum, in The Hague, and elsewhere.  This makes for an incredibly hectic job.

The nature of my work clashes with my home life, which is no longer ordinary since Jennifer’s death. In making this decision, I have opted for my children. I want to be there for them, as a father. Unconditionally. During the past few months I have done my utmost to make it all work. I wanted to give myself until the end of this year, but last week it became clear to me that things were not working out the way I had envisioned. Either you do it the right way or you don’t do it at all. For this reason I am resigning effective as of today.

I will still be with the NOS. The exact nature of my work will become clear in the days to come. I am extremely grateful to all of you, for your trust, patience, understanding and support. Thank you all.’

The hours that followed were like a warm blanket that settled over me. People responded by email or phone, via Twitter and Facebook. What kept recurring was the word courageous or a variation thereof.

Am I brave? I feel that I’ve done the only thing I could. Re-reading this diary, thinking back to the way I struggled to adjust my working life which meant so much to me to suit the new circumstances, I again experience the avalanche of emotions which I had to surmount in order to reach this rational conclusion: ‘I’m only giving up this job because I love my children and I want to be there for them.’

Courageous? Apparently.

Doing well at not doing well

SATURDAY, September 25 – I got home late, just before midnight, and to my amazement I found Sander sitting on the couch. Wide awake. When I asked what he was doing up so late, he said, ‘Go look in the kitchen.’

It was spic and span. He’d done the dishes, cleaned the counter, dried the pans and hung them up and, as if that wasn’t enough, he’d also straightened up the dining room. Not to mention, earlier that evening he’d baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Compliments all round. What a kid and all on his own. Fantastic. Even though it had already struck twelve, I let him come with me when I took the dog out. He had something to tell me.

‘You’ve probably noticed that I’m not doing really well right now.’

I looked at him in amazement. Not really well?

He started to cry. I gave him a hug. The whole story came out, crystal-clear. He’s still so angry – at the man who took his mother away from him at the fact that she isn’t here anymore. He can’t take it any longer. He wants everything to be the way it was, with a father and a mother. He hasn’t told his new classmates about his family situation. All they know is that he has a Dutch father and an American mother. In the meantime, all he wants to do is scream at the top of his lungs that he is VERY MAD!

Of course, I could explain to him that his rage is perfectly normal, using the scientific mourning curve described by psychiatrist Kubler Ross and that the final phases in the acceptance of death.  Further, that the integration of our loss alternates with a return to the angry phase. For the moment, however, I decide it’s better to say nothing.

I just hug him.

Quitting my job is ‘good news’

FRIDAY, September 24 – ‘I have some good news,’ I said to the boys, after summoning them to the dinner table. ‘I’m taking on a new job at NOS News. Right now I’m not exactly sure what. The most important thing is that I’m stepping down as deputy editor-in-chief, so that I’ll have more time to spend with you guys.’

Call it paternal spin-doctoring. Disguise the bad news by presenting it as a positive development. Mission accomplished:  the boys are ecstatic.

Fortunately, they also have questions.

‘Are you going to make less money?’

‘Yes, but we can handle that. We probably won’t even feel it.  We’ll go on living in this house, you’ll be going to the same school, and there won’t be any cuts in food or clothing.’

Sander: ‘Do you have to hand in your iPhone?’

‘Nope, it was written off ages ago and I’ll probably be allowed to keep the laptop. So as far as high tech is concerned, we don’t have anything to worry about.’

The kid has his priorities.

I’m feeling almost enthusiastic myself now that they’ve accepted the decision that’s been the product of months of wrestling with myself. I tell them we’re going to announce the news at the staff meeting on Monday. This is followed by a long silence, as if the impact of the announcement has just penetrated.

‘Do you want us to come with you when you tell everyone?’ Sander asks and Eamonn quickly adds, ‘Yeah, we want them to know we’re behind you.’

Very sweet, but I decline.

Wishing I’d been there

THURSDAY, September 23 – I just notified the hospital that I have decided to let the matter rest. I can’t afford to waste my precious energy on a long, drawn-out search for possibly culpable medical mistakes. The main reason is that it won’t change anything. Another chapter has been closed, but others are still lying ahead of us. The only thing that really gets to me is the uncertainty about what happened in the last moments of Jenn’s life. I wish I could at least have held her hand.

Sleepless in Sadness

WEDNESDAY, September 22 – That was the second sleepless night in a row and I’m exhausted.  Anyone who is exhausted after spending hours staring at the ceiling, pacing through the house, and tossing and turning eventually starts to have doubts. Doubts about everything. Especially himself. What the fuck am I doing?

Pretty destructive thoughts. You get in a negative spiral, inclined to reject everything and everyone. The things that went through my mind last night!!  Pfff.  Maybe those thoughts were so negative because the boys and I have been making such progress. Can all that be wiped out in a single blow? Right now that’s the way it feels.

A couple of hours sleep early in the morning keeps me going. A refreshing shower, strong coffee, kids setting off for school without too much of a hassle. There are a lot of things that fill me with doubt, but my relationship with C is not one of them. To be on the safe side, I tell her so and that feels good on this Wednesday morning, exactly eleven months after the accident.

A ‘yes’ for the boys. And for her

TUESDAY, September 21 – I’m well and truly pissed off – incensed,  in a way, that I’ve been forced to make this bastard decision.  At the same time, I’m convinced that I’m doing the right thing. It’s best for me and it’s best for the children, now and later. A strange symbiosis:  it’s so emotional and yet it leaves me totally indifferent.

We keep it under wraps until Monday, when all the team members will be present, and I can announce that I’m standing down.

‘Does it feel like a kind of liberation?’ H asked, when I told him that my decision was irreversible?  ‘Do you feel relieved?’

No. A hundred times no. I’m pissed off. It’s fucking hell. Bloody awful. Just plain shit.  From the bottom of my heart I wish every possible disease on the person who brought all this shit into our lives, both private and professional. It is a rational decision taken in the midst of an emotional situation.

Do I feel castrated in my career? No, but I regret the interruption, after having spent two fulfilling years as deputy editor-in-chief working with people, encouraging colleagues, outlining journalistic policy, implementing creative ideas, correcting past mistakes, monitoring our consistent high quality – all of this in order to become and remain the very best. What an adventure it was.

All of this had nothing to do with lording it over others. What I found most satisfying was making use of my journalistic experience within a top management function. ‘What are your ambitions?’ asked Ben Knapen, then deputy editor of national daily NRC Handelsblad, when I was applying for a trainee position in 1987. I believe it’s better to be cheeky than modest when you apply for a job, so I said, ‘Editor-in-chief of this newspaper.’ I started out in the sports section as general dogsbody where I worked my tail off for a couple of years.

Later I joined the staff of the Amsterdam daily Het Parool and then went on to the national paper De Volkskrant, until I resigned in late 1994 and emigrated to the United States. Five years as freelance journalist in New York was followed by six years as NOS radio correspondent in Washington D.C., and three years as their multimedia correspondent in London. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I would indeed make it to the position of (deputy) editor-in-chief.

I’d always felt that I had to work harder than hard. Become a better journalist, learn new things and then move up to a new level. From the written to the spoken word, from radio to television, from television to internet, and then the entire gamut of the field. Doing the same thing year after year held no appeal for me. I’ve learned that routine can be deadly for the creative spirit.

This led to a fairly monomaniacal existence. Work, work, work. Jennifer was often scathing about employers who called me in the evening or on weekends, knowing that I never said no. Nor could she easily accept the fact that I was a workaholic and over the years this led to considerable marital stress.

But now it is ‘no’. I’ve made a temporary departure from the rat race and, for now, no more unconditional devotion to journalism. It’s a ‘yes’ for the boys. For Jenn. And maybe even more so for myself.

Time to choose. For my kids

MONDAY, September 20 – This morning it became clear to me. At exactly 8:45 am, on the tortuous road between Amsterdam and Hilversum where I’d shed so many tears and where I now whoosh along with a song in my heart. Overdiek, it’s time you stopped kidding yourself. Put your own happiness first, and allow yourself the time and space you need. Take care of yourself. Only then can you be there for the boys.

In other words, I intend to resign as deputy editor-in-chief of NOS News. My fruitless attempts to do this work at my full capacity have foundered in the realization that this is no ordinary job. In the situation in which we find ourselves, I cannot afford to invest my energy in a profession that necessarily interferes with my personal life. At least not at the present and not for the coming two years, or so.

I want to be able to go to Eamonn’s karate lessons. I want to have a leisurely breakfast with Sander. I want to sit down with them when they do their homework. I want to show up at school when they’re not expecting me. I want to know who their friends are. I want us to fix a meal together. I want to argue with my adolescent son. I want to do the things with them that their mother used to do.

I want to be there for them.

If I want to do all this, and I do, then I cannot function adequately as deputy editor-in-chief in Hilversum. There’s so much more to the job than working hard during normal office hours. It doesn’t end there. It’s not that I can’t handle it. I can. I know how to make this organization even better. I know how to inspire people. I know my strong points. I know how to lead, but at this moment other things are more important: I’m more important and what I need is to be able to be there for my two boys.

I’ll find something else within the NOS. I have enough skills, I’m motivated and ambitious. In a professional sense, I know I can play a leading role and there’s bound to be a job I can tackle within the framework I have sketched. I want to go on working for this fantastic organization that is made up of people who stand by each other when the going gets tough.

My first priority, however, is that I want to be a father. That is, a caregiver who also works, who’s there for the children, as well as for himself. Someone who keeps the family together. That’s what I promised Jennifer on her deathbed, when I held her hand, kissed her, and whispered that we would carry on. Her way, our way, my way. That moment is now.

12.30 –  I talked to my colleagues within the executive management team.  Understanding. Strength. Hugs. We agree to sleep on it: tomorrow the die will or will not be cast.

23:00 –  I’m perfectly calm. I helped Sander with his homework and complimented Eamonn as he enjoyed eating something new.

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